Penn State Has Not Decriminalized Marijuana Possession

As many people are aware, the State College Borough recently passed an ordinance to allow the State College Police Department to issue a non-traffic summary citation for a person who is caught smoking or in possession of less than thirty grams of marijuana. According to many online newspaper articles, this is being called the decriminalization of marijuana in State College. Regrettably, many people are associating the word “decriminalization” to mean legalization, and many people do not realize that the ordinance charge is only available in the State College Borough and not all of the area commonly called State College. The confusion of the new ordinance’s applicability is actually likely to cause Penn State students to openly engage in marijuana-related activities that they believe are now legal.

The Penn State University issued a statement that the marijuana decriminalization ordinance will have no impact on how it handles marijuana cases. More specifically, the Penn State website noted “the State College Borough ordinance does not change the way Penn State Police or police in surrounding municipalities will be handling drug offenses.” This means that the university police will continue to file misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia charges, and students will also be referred to the Penn State Office of Student Conduct. While the passing of the ordinance was supposed to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession, my concern is that the lack of adequate information about the ordinance will cause Penn State students and visitors to State College to get into more legal trouble with the criminal justice system as well as the university’s disciplinary system for marijuana related offenses.

Marijuana Possession and Penn State Student Conduct System

All Penn State students are required to comply with the Code of Student Conduct. The Code of Conduct basically prohibits a student from engaging in criminal activity. A student who breaks the law is generally prosecuted criminally through the court system and also through the student disciplinary system. The State College Borough Ordinance regarding marijuana possession probably will have no impact on how the Penn State Office of Student Conduct handles marijuana possession or possession of drug paraphernalia cases. In checking online on August 15, 2016, the Penn State Code of Student Conduct still prohibits a student from “illegally possessing, using, distributing, manufacturing, selling or being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.”

The State College ordinance did not legalize marijuana. Possession of marijuana remains a misdemeanor offense in Pennsylvania. Also, most people who are found to be in possession of marijuana will also have some form of drug paraphernalia in his or her possession, possibly a pipe or rolling papers, or even the container or baggy which contains marijuana. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor violation of Pennsylvania law. Therefore, a student that possesses either marijuana or paraphernalia continues to break state law, and such illegal possession would also violate the Code of Conduct.

The good news is that most students that violate the Code of Conduct for basic possession cases are not normally removed, meaning suspended or expelled, from school. Students who are caught growing or distributing any drugs do face removal as a recommended sanction. This basically means that drug users are permitted to seek treatment and remain in school, while drug dealers are removed for a period of time. However, repeat users who are referred to the student disciplinary system would be treated as repeat offenders, and the sanctions for repeat offenders increase. Therefore, even users can and will be removed from Penn State if they get caught on numerous occasions.

Any person facing marijuana possession charges in the State College area or on the Penn State campus should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to have to the matter thoroughly reviewed. Ignorance is not bliss and instead often leads to both short-term and long-term problems. The best way to minimize the long-term impact of a situation is to find and retain a lawyer who knows both the local court system and the school disciplinary system.